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Making History
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Begins Tuesday 18 October 2005 , 3.00-3.30 p.m
Sue Cook and the team answer listeners' historical queries and celebrate the way in which we all 'make' history.
Series 12
Programme 9
13 December 2005

Listen to this programme in full

Hidden Treasures of St Andrew's, Wiveliscombe

Making History listener Jenny Gerrard is a regular visitor to Somerset. One day whilst on holiday there, she and her husband popped into the parish church of St Andrew's, Wiveliscombe, where they were staggered to find records of how a small group of people squirreled away important examples of church art and furniture from all over the country during the war. Who was behind this, she asked, and why Wiveliscombe?

Making History discovered that the plan to move hundreds of objects of church art, furniture and relics was that of two people - Dr Francis Eles, the then head of the central Council for the Care of Churches, and his assistant Judith Scott. Wiveliscombe was chosen for two reasons. First, Eles had a holiday home at nearby Dunster, and second and more important, the church had a huge crypt which was neatly divided up into small sections that were vacant. When the church was built in the 1820s, the crypt was deliberately designed as a way of paying for the building. The idea was that the great and the good would pay rent for a place where family members could be buried. This clever idea never really worked and much of the space was unused - until the early months of the war when Dr Eles decided it would make an excellent wartime storage space.

Making History consulted Judith Scott, Dr Francis Eles' assistant; architectural historian Dr Thomas Cocke; and Dixon Luxton, Churchwarden of St Andrew's, Wiveliscombe.

Useful links 

Church of England Church Care

The Church of England's Built Heritage

Wiveliscombe Area Website

Wiveliscombe Parish Church

Further reading 

Donald Findlay, The Protection of English Churches (Church House Publishing, 1996; ISBN 0 7151 7575 0)

Lady Godiva

Following mention of Godiva in a previous edition of Making History, in which it was said that the story of her naked ride through Coventry is not accurate, listener Ray Green in York wanted to hear the 'real' story about her.

Making History consulted Dr Victoria Thompson of Trinity All Saints in Leeds.

The familiar story of Godiva is that she was upset with her husband Leofric for hampering the development of Coventry with taxes. She persistently pleaded with her husband, who eventually said he would reduce the taxes if she rode naked on a horse across the town. Of course he never imagined she would complete the challenge. Everyone showed their respect by staying indoors and, with only her long hair to cover her, Lady Godiva rode through the deserted streets. Only one person looked - the character we now know as Peeping Tom - but as he gave in to the temptation he was struck blind. Amazed by her compassionate deed, Leofric fulfilled his promise and reduced the taxes immediately.

Dr Thompson points out that Godiva was a wealthy woman in her own right; indeed, according to the Domesday Book, she actually owned Coventry, so she would have been administering the local taxes herself. The 'naked ride' story of Godiva is from a 12th-century historian, Roger of Wendover, but in this case the misunderstanding seems to have happened earlier on in the transmission. When Roger told the story he thought she was nude, whereas what is much more likely is that she was stripped of all her symbols of rank during an act of penance carried out by the great and the good.
The Astronomical Sightings of Parson Holland

Making History listener Julia Underhill contacted the programme about the diaries of a Somerset parson, William Holland. The entry for Thursday 26 January 1809 reads: "In the evening I was called out to see two very bright stars very near each other. I viewed the stars through my telescope, they seemed very near each other and something similar in their faces tho one was brighter than the other. There seemed clearly and distinctly a black line round the surface of each with a luminous appearance beyond this ridge like a border and the middle had several black dots like writing in two or three lines across. They both had apparently some kind of dots or lines but the one was far more luminous than the other. My wife and I and all our people were out and I do not remember seeing such a thing before. I suppose our papers will be full of it by and by..."

Julia wanted to know what Parson Holland might have seen.

Making History consulted Dr Jacqueline Mitton of Total Astronomy in Cambridge. She ran a software program which recreated the night sky seen by Parson Holland in January 1809 and found that this was a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter of a quite spectacular kind. The closest conjunction was at 7 pm on 26 January, looking to the south west. It would have been striking with or without a telescope. The constellation was Aquarius.

According to Dr Mitton, conjunctions of these two planets are not uncommon but it is unusual for literary sources to record them. Also, many of the conjunctions occur when the planets are so close to the Sun that they are not visible in the night sky, so a conjunction in which Venus is an Evening Star would be a rare treat.

Useful link 

Total Astronomy Limited

Further reading

Paupers and Pig Killers: The Diary of William Holland, a Somerset Parson, 1799-1818 (Sutton Publishing, 2003)

Researching Catholic History

Andrew Hoare wrote to Making History about how, when tracing his family history, he had discovered that many of his ancestors originated from the Catholic village of Little Crosby in Lancashire. He asked where, prior to 1800, Catholic manual workers would have married and been buried, and would these events - and births too - have been recorded?

From the Act of Uniformity of April 1559 almost right through to the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, Catholics in England were persecuted by the State, although through the 19th century the law increasingly turned a blind eye. The Act of 1559 (part of the Elizabethan Settlement) introduced heavy penalties for those who refused to conform to Anglicanism. Failure to attend the new Sunday service could attract a fine of one shilling (the equivalent of around £6 today). An alternative punishment was excommunication from the Church of England and a consequent loss of civil rights. Attending the Catholic Mass could attract colossal fines of 100 marks for the first offence (= £8,250 today). A second offence quadrupled the fine. Offending a third time could mean life imprisonment and the loss of all goods. The same punishments were threatened against those who criticised the Book of Common Prayer. Anyone assisting at Mass was liable to six months' imprisonment for the first offence, a year for the second, and life for the third. Catholic priests were effectively outlaws and could be hanged.

It is little wonder, then, that until the 1791 Catholic Relief Act, when Catholics were allowed to build and run their own churches and chapels, few records exist. Catholics did get married and were baptised but this would have been done in the privacy of their own homes and no records would have been kept. Burial was more interesting. People had to be buried in consecrated ground, so Catholics were buried in Anglican graveyards and it is sometimes possible to find a mark or the word "Papist" against the name of someone who was buried in such a place. Occasionally, in places like Lancashire where there was a significant number of Catholic gentry, there would be Catholic burial grounds.

Making History consulted Tony Hilton of the North West Catholic History Society.

Useful link

The North West Catholic History Society
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Making History

Vanessa Collingridge
Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

Contact Making History

Send your comments and questions for future programmes to:
Making History
BBC Radio 4
PO Box 3096 Brighton

Or email the programme

Or telephone the Audience Line 08700 100 400

Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

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